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Is IBM using nanosoup for chip production?

IBM will talk about chips that assemble themselves next week.

Figuring out a way to make semiconductors make themselves would certainly save everyone a lot of time and money, and IBM next week says it will discuss a technique that moves it closer to the goal of self-assembly.

On May 3, researchers will provide some details on what IBM says is a commercially practical technique for applying an insulating layer through chips using self-assembly. Now, adding layers and structures to a chip requires costly and time consuming processes: intricate patterns are etched onto microscopic surfaces, sprayed with metals, and then with chemicals to remove excess metal particles.

In self-assembly, physical, chemical and/or biological forces do the heavy lifting. Cambrios Technologies, for instance, has come up with a microorganism that lets chip makers add an insulating layer of cobalt into semiconductors by simply dipping the wafer into solutions. One end of the organism attaches to copper and the other to cobalt. By dipping a wafer etched with copper circuits into a vat of the microbes, and then dipping it into a solution containing cobalt, the layer is applied.

"It's a high-value, low-volume soup," is how Hash Pakbaz, vice president of development, has described the process. Cambrios is working with chip companies to get the technology integrated into chip manufacturing by around 2010.

Cambrios founder, MIT professor Angela Belcher, has also experimented with organisms that can adhere to, and thus highlight, stressed areas of an airplane wing.

IBM for years has experimented with using self-assembly techniques to grow carbon nanotube arrays.

IBM has not provided many public details, but has only sent out an invitation to set up meetings, so we're extrapolating here. It should be interesting to see if IBM has begun to experiment in the biological realm. The brief notice IBM sent out said the technique comes from its labs, which are more versed in chemistry and physics. Still, it sounds similar to what Cambrios is doing and biology has been gaining many adherents.

It won't be the only chip news next week. The University of Texas will show off on Monday its TRIPS processor, which they hope will be able to perform a trillion operations a second in a few years. IBM collaborated on TRIPS.